How SoutheastHEALTH recruited a top thoracic surgeon

Dr. Lynne Skaryak practices horse jumping with one of her four horses, a hobby she started five years ago. Dr. Skaryak is the newest board-certified thoracic surgeon at SoutheastHEALTH Heart, Lung & Vascular Services. (Lyle Whitworth Photography)
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Saturday, February 20, 2021 ~ Updated 8:07 PM

When she was growing up as a child in Charlotte, North Carolina, Lynne Skaryak, MD, recognized two things quite clearly.

"I always thought I'd be a surgeon one day," she recalls with a smile. "And I was always around horses and told myself I would ride and compete with them when I was older."

Dr. Skaryak is the newest board-certified thoracic surgeon at SoutheastHEALTH Heart, Lung & Vascular Services. She focuses on "all things chest" except the heart and has particular expertise as a lung cancer specialist.

"I like the variety in thoracic surgery and I particularly enjoy patient care and now the longevity of it. It used to be that we'd follow patients for five years, but now we follow them longer and they are like family."

She earned her medical degree and completed her residency in general as well as cardiothoracic surgery at Duke University Medical School in Durham, N.C. She then moved up the eastern seaboard, working in Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia, serving as head of the division of thoracic surgery at Sinai Hospital and then Medstar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland before moving to Chesapeake Regional Medical Center in Chesapeake, VA.

"My husband and I owned a 40-acre farm in Virginia. It was lovely working at the regional hospital and coming home to that farm, but my husband was originally from Montana and Utah, and we both wanted to move away from the city and toward a more rural and suburban area."

Her timing was perfect, according to Paul Robison, MD, medical director of SoutheastHEALTH's Heart, Lung & Vascular Services, as he was actively recruiting for a premier thoracic specialist to join the team. After seeing both the quality of healthcare and surgical facilities available as well as driving through the mid-Missouri countryside, Dr. Skaryak says she was hooked.

"It was the opportunity to find greater work-life balance while working for an excellent hospital and program," she says.

Her husband also made the trip from Virginia. As luck would have it, he was employed by Norfolk Southern Railroad, which had an opening in Missouri for another job. With everything aligned, Dr. Skaryak joined the thoracic oncology team at SoutheastHEALTH.

"Dr. Skaryak brings many years of high-quality lung, chest, and cancer surgery experience to our team and works closely with the Southeast pulmonologists and oncologists," says Dr. Robison. "Her skills as a thoracic surgeon and her absolute dedication to her patients and their families rounds out the comprehensive SoutheastHEALTH Heart, Lung & Vascular service line. We are thrilled to have her on our team."

With her practice now specializing in thoracic cancer, Dr. Skaryak says there are multiple options to treat lung cancer.

"Even patients who have end-stage disease, there are newer drugs that allow people to live longer and with a better quality of life," she explains. "Less invasive surgical procedures also are done. It used to be that a surgeon would open up a chest cavity from stem to stern; nowadays there may be just two or three incisions and we can go in with smaller instruments. That means faster recovery, shorter length of stay and less medications for my patients."

She adds, "My job is not to sell someone a surgery; my job is to explain things as well as I can, answer any questions and tell my patient that we are in this journey together."

She particularly likes Southeast's affiliation with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where she collaborates with thoracic surgeons and thoracic oncologists on clinical research and patient consultations. "That's a huge plus for the region that Southeast has affiliations such as these," she notes.

Now, about work-life balance and following her other childhood dream of riding horses. Moving to Cape Girardeau has enabled Dr. Skaryak to continue a fairly new leisure activity and passion, "I took up horseback riding when I was around 50 years old," she says with a laugh. "I started jumping horses about four to five years ago and I simply love it."

And just like her laser-sharp focus on surgery, Dr. Skaryak is determined to excel at horsemanship. She currently owns two jumpers and twice a week drives to St. Louis to further her skills with Micaela Kennedy, a nationally recognized equestrian trainer. "I have a zoo," she exclaims with a twinkle in her eye. "Two jumpers, two other retired horses, four dogs and two cats!"

As she gets ready to go around the equestrian ring gearing up for another jump, Dr. Skaryak says simply, "At this stage of my life, I'm really doing the two things I've wanted to do forever -- take care of patients and learn how to jump horses."

"I'm excited about my future," she adds. "And now I've got my sights set on competing at a major equestrian event."

Stay tuned!